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Hazard shines but Blues stumble

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By ESPN Staff

Laursen 'happy' with comeback progress

Martin Laursen is confident he will be in contention for Aston Villa's opening Premiership clash with Arsenal.

The Denmark international is slowly but surely easing his way back to full fitness after a two-year injury nightmare with knee problems.

Laursen played 45 minutes of last night's pre-season clash with NEC Nijmegen in Holland with no apparent ill effects.

He has made only 13 appearances for Villa since his £3million switch from AC Milan in the summer of 2004.

But now Laursen is determined to try to force himself to the forefront of new manager Martin O'Neill's plans.

Laursen said: 'I came through it okay on Tuesday and the knee felt good. Everything's still going to plan and I'm feeling good, so I'm happy about things.

'It's been four weeks since we started building-up and I couldn't have asked for more. I'm satisfied, that's for sure.

'I would like to be available for the gaffer for Arsenal. We have to see over the next couple of days whether there's any reaction from the knee but I think I will be alright.

'It was the plan that I played 45 minutes and I feel good. Hopefully I'll play a part in the Friday game against Groningen as well.'

O'Neill is sweating over the fitness of a trio of players injured against Nijmegen with the new Premiership season only 10 days away.

Laursen's defensive partner Gary Cahill is the major worry with an ankle injury but striker Luke Moore (foot) and Mark Delaney (back) also picked up knocks.

O'Neill admitted: 'Gary's a worry for us. He has a knee problem. I'm not sure how bad it is. We will have to wait and see. I hope the other injuries we can do something about in the short term.'

The Villa chief continues to step up attempts to bring in £5million-rated Celtic midfielder Stilian Petrov and there is a possibility the Bulgarian could fly out to Villa's pre-season tour of Holland if the deal is pushed through by the weekend.

Meanwhile O'Neill appears to be exploring his captaincy options with Gareth Barry having been given the armband for the opening two games of his reign against Hanover 96 and Nijmegen.

He was given the armband when lining up alongside regular captain Olof Mellberg in the starting line-up in Hanover and held onto it when the Sweden international started on the bench against Nijmegen.